With the inevitable abandonment of the professional market by Apple lots of people are switching to windows. And more often than not either building their own workstations or at least picking the components and getting someone to build one for them.
A couple of questions keep coming up in the forums, so i thought i’d write a short article about the main questions.
Update 2019: Amd ryzen and Thread rippers have completely dethroned intel performance wise. They have great single and multi core speeds. Also Since GPU renderers are becoming more and more capable, signficanlty less rendering is being done on them. So you might not need all those cores. But for simulating particles and dynamics, still very useful.
So there are 2 main factors to consider when picking a CPU. You have processors with lots of cores, but lower core clock speed. For example the i7 5820K wich has 6 cores, but runs at 3.4ghz and then you have the i7 6700k which has only 4 cores but runs at 4ghz. Generally it seems to make sense to go for 6x 3.4ghz, rather than 4x 4ghz. But that is only true if what you need the power for is multi-threaded. And unfortunately lots of stuff still isn’t multi threaded and runs on only one core. For example the viewport in cinema4d, Xpresso, character rigs, and most of the realtime stuff you see runs on one single CPU core, so you will get a more responsive viewport while working with a 6700K, but your renders will go slower ( assuming you are rendering with a CPU based renderer, more on that next).
Regarding Xeons. They only really make sense if you are going the Dual cpu route. But the previous issue with clock speeds is still in play. check the single core benchmarks and compare. The xeons usually score significantly less on those.
Check //cbscores.com for how CPU’s score in both single and multi core. Also make sure when googling for cpu scored, that you are looking at cinebench R15 results, not R11.5 ones. They don’t match up. There is also a cinebench R20 now, but there aren’t many cpu reviewed on it yet, so the scores aren’t as useful.
And Just a final note to make this all more confusing. Not all Ghz are created the same. If you check cb scores, you might notice that a 6700k scores more than a 4770k even though it has a lower clock speed. Thats because its a newer generation and its more efficient. So a 5 year old CPU at 3.2 ghz won’t necessarily match a 3.2ghz cpu from this year.
What Video card (GPU)
Nvidia. Not because its faster, but because all these awesome GPU renders that are out run on CUDA, and thats an Nvidia technology. I’ll be writing an article on them later.
You want to go for the GTX series. Quadro cards have no real benefit in Cinema4D or the GPU renderers. ( maya apparently benefits from Quadro cards).
I think rendering is moving mostly towards the GPU. So i’d buy a motherboard with at least 3 pci-x slots. and fill them up as your budget allows. When rendering with a GPU renderer you want as much ram as possible, because you cant use your system ram. Or in the cases where you can use it, is slows down significantly. But honestly its rare that scenes are that large.
PCIe lanes. The amount of lanes your CPU has affects the amount of GPU’s you can run. It is reccomended you have 8x for each card, but apparantly some engines allows you to run them at 4x lanes each. Some of those PCIe lanes are reserved for nvme drives and other stuff.. so you have to check that on your CPU spec sheets.
I wrote a more expansive article on what you need to know for GPU rendering here: //ace5studios.com/gpu
I’ll admit, im still on good old fashion spinning hard drives. My laptop came with some SSD’s and while its great to boot things up really quickly, while working, all your applications are going to be in your ram, so i don’t notice that much of a difference.
If you do lots of work where you are dealing with lots of files. image sequences, Cache files for simulations. Than definitely get an SSD, or three. Check Toms hardware for the latest and greatest ( google it, its a hardware review site).
Just get 16GB for now, but make sure your motherboard supports at least 32GB. Careful don’t cheap out and get the slowest ram, that noticeably lags your workflow. But also don’t go overboard and buy the fastest, because without overclocking you’re not going to feel the difference. Check what your processor supports without overclocking.
If you are getting an AMD ryzen or threadripper, google ” your processor name + what is the best ram” there are some speed matching issues that crop up with the AMD architecture. Lots of tests done for various cpu’s. check this stuff yourself.
Also i notice some people think more ram will make your system faster. This is true to some extent, but its not like adding more ram will make your existing system faster. Think of ram like waiters at a restaurant. If you don’t have enough of them you REALLY need more, otherwise everything grinds to a halt. But once you have enough, adding more won’t help. They will just sit there with nothing to do. Ram is similar. If you don’t have enough it’s going to slow you down a lot because, you computer will have to swap files in and out of ram from your hard drive. But if you have 16gb, and don’t use the whole capacity adding more wont have any effect.
I personally don’t overclock, but if you want to tinker with stuff its a viable choice, often making up for the shortcomings of multi-core processors. But keep in mind that it may void your warranty. Do a lot of reading about before just pushing at numbers. 🙂
Case and PSU
If you are building your own system yourself, don’t skimp on the case, make sure it has screwless everything, will make the whole build a much more pleasurable activity. Youtube reviews of cases are a good place to start with when picking a case.
The size of the powersupply you will need depends on the components you are using, once again google is your friend here. spend a bit extra and get a name brand one, like a corsair ( and not the cheapest one). It’ll run quieter and probably last longer. Also less chance of it getting hit by a surge and frying the rest of your system. Never happened to me, i used to use cheapest PSU’s i could get and lots of them died, but no permanent damage. But the volume is a noticeable difference.
Currently I’m on a ryzen 2700x with a 2060 super and a 1060 in there. AMD’s have this nice bonus of have a single socket design for the last 3 generations, and the 4th gen cpu’s about to come out should work in more recent existing motherboards. I bought a 3rd gen motherboard, put a 2nd gen cpu in it, because it was dirt cheap, and only slightly slower than the 3rd gen equivilant. and if it’s not enough power for me, i can easily plug in a higher end 3rd gen, or 4th gen cpu when they come out. I have 32gb of ram, which is plenty for what i do.
Looking for builds? I approve these 🙂
Here is a great list of builds by Sage: http://www.thesagery.com/builds/
As October 2020, Asus have some amazing laptops with 4th gen AMD processors which absolutely crush the intel processors, and they seem to be the only Laptop manufacturer to pair them with Nvidia cards. Only major issue is they are mostly sold out. But keep an eye out for the Asus G14 and Asus G15.
The new Acer Triton 500 i think is my personal favorite right now. It comes with some powerful GPU option and looks real slick. It goes come with the 20 series of nvidia GPU’s. which aren’t full utilized by GPU render engines yet, but i guess it’s future proofing.
For battery life the Razer Blade seems the undeniable winner in all its Forms. Its basically a black Mac book pro, with real hardware inside and a really ugly font on the keyboard.
read more here: //www.engadget.com/2014/05/06/Razer-Blade-14-review-2014/
I personally got the MSI GS60 with a GTX970M with 6gb of memory on it. It seemed to be a good balance of price/performance for me. I personally dont really care about battery life. If im doing work i’ll find an outlet, for everything else i have tablets and phones.
The thing that bummed me out most, was the lack of a windows key on the left side of the keyboard.
read more here: https//www.engadget.com/2014/04/17/msi-gs60-ghost-review/ ( but keep in mind, internals are always updated, so basically just look at the pictures)
update: now with the the 6th gen i7 in the GS60, it support upto 32gb ram. by using 2x 16gb sticks.
And finally always remember to do your research, google benchmarks, check forums for feedback on products. Do your homework, things change quickly. Even people who work at computer shops often cant keep up. For example, my 4790k when i bought it, turns out in the combination of the motherboard i bought it was automatically overclocking and then throttling due to heat, had to install new firmware on the motherboard, and then use intel extreme tuning utility to force to just go at stock… And all because i bought the newest thing that was out. Could’ve just went for the 4770k which was tried and true, and only a slight bit slower.
Hope this article helped!